Billy Gopher Nelson and his Ford Galaxie

August 6, 2010 - In honor of Billy "Gopher" Nelson, Blairsville, Georgia

The 1st Annual Billy "Gopher" Nelson Memorial Ford Award was presented to Ray Yarber by the Blairsville Cruisers on Saturday, August 7, 2010 at their monthly "Cruise In".

Yarber, from Riceville, Tennessee, won the Best Ford Award with his red 1964 Ford Galaxie. The Blairsville Cruisers are proud to award this special presentation in honor of a good friend and fellow enthusiast, Mr. Gopher Nelson (1951-2010).

Gopher was a North Georgia native raised in Union County , a rural farming community in the southern Appalachians . Back in the 50's a boy went to school, attended church, did his chores and tried to get in a little hunting and fishing. There wasn't a lot of excitement, but growing up in the North Georgia Mountains suited Gopher just fine. He and his friends found out early that they could make their own excitement. Gopher started riding motorcycles before his feet touched the ground and continued through most of his life. He proved to be an accomplished rider on the street and off road.

The 60s and 70s were a great time for American made cars and Gopher's top choice was a Ford. He was a loyal Ford man on through the '90s and into the new millennium. From his early years with his silver '65 Falcon, and then through a number of high performance Fords, Gopher remained true to Ford often saying, "If you cut me, I'll bleed Ford Blue."

In the 70's Gopher was known to street race now and then with great success at Jack's Gap and other locations. He drove his own and other's cars. Friends say, "By then we weren't teenagers. We were old enough to know better but couldn't resist the thrill of the run." Gopher's success at street racing carried over in to his legal drag racing at several tracks in the south including Commerce, Calhoun and Brainerd, both in his own cars and those of Jacky Jones. He once flipped his Pinto (the Ta smanian Devil) at Commerce after getting out of the groove. His comments about the wreck can't be printed.

Gopher also loved dirt track racing. He traveled with Johnny Thomas and maintained the car. During this time, Johnny was the track champion at Cleveland and Crossville ( Tennessee ).

Gopher got into jeep riding and off roading with his wife Angie. Billy and Angie enjoyed riding in the mountains. As usual with Gopher his competition side emerged and riding turned into racing and hill climbing. Camping was also a big part of Gopher's, Angie's, and daughter Katie's time together.

Gopher loved muscle cars and nostalgia racing shows. He liked crowds, noise and excitement. He also enjoyed aggravating his friends, especially Mike Plott. It made his day when he could pull a fast one on his friend. If he wasn't picking on Mike, something was wrong. No matter how far the jokes went, everyone knew Gopher would be there through thick and thin. Mike never felt any need to "get back" at Gopher.

Billy "Gopher" Nelson had clear opinions about everything and never hesitated to express them. Gopher had strong views on everything from politics to racing. His closest friends say the same thing, "He would speak his mind no matter what. That was Gopher being Gopher. When it came down to brass tacks, he was there for his friends. He was a loyal friend to all even if he was stubborn sometimes." Friends and family say, "Through all his health problems and with his determination to continue enjoying life, Gopher should have had a shirt that said, ' Powered by Stubbornness .'"

Gopher worked early on at the Honda Shop and later was partners with his cousin Terry Roberts at Precision Auto Body. The automobile industry was a big part of Gopher's life and he did everything from selling cars out of a dealer's showroom to custom bodywork.

Friends will never forget Gopher Nelson. They remember that he sometimes chewed on a good cigar. He didn't even bother to light up half the time, just chewed it to a pulp. He was quick with wit and always ready to lend a hand.

Returning to his Christian up bringing, Gopher became more laid back and started to enjoy the peaceful things in life. His wife, Angie Nelson and daughter Katie Nelson were always the stars in Gopher's life but his '63 ½ Ford Galaxie was next in line. Angie stuck by Gopher through sickness and in health and supported him in his zest for life. Bill "Gopher" Nelson was a member of the Blairsville Cruisers and his fellowship will be greatly missed. Thanks to Gopher's friends for sharing their memories of Billy "Gopher" Nelson - a Blairsville home boy and true friend to many.

The Best Ford Award is sponsored by the Blairsville Cruisers and Jacky Jones Ford.